Is Growing Spaghetti Squash Worth The Effort?
You just know that I’m gonna give a resounding “YES”, don’t you? Once you’ve eaten spaghetti squash – you’ll think seriously about growing spaghetti squash!
Many connoisseurs of the celebrated meal of Italian spaghetti may tend to disagree – since they have always opted for those traditional starchy pasta noodles. If you ask them if they ever tried to substitute spaghetti squash for pasta, most of them will emphatically shake their heads “NO” – in a most disapproving manner!
But, my message to them is – if you haven’t tried it – don’t knock it!
How Does Spaghetti Squash Get Its Characteristic Noodle-like Texture?
Without delving too deeply into the confusing and, sometimes, mundane world of genetics – let’s just say that the noodle consistency of spaghetti squash is brought about by a recessive gene comprised of the “noodle-like” recessive trait being passed in the pollen from the male flower (stamen) and linking up with the same “noodle-like” recessive trait in the female flower’s pistil – creating the “noodle-like” recessive gene in the growing spaghetti squash.
And, there you have it – in as few words as possible! It takes two identical type, or similar type, traits – one from the male – and one from the female to make a gene.
The dominant trait of having solid, fleshy innards – as with other squash varieties like acorn and butternut – has been bred out of the spaghetti squash – so, it isn’t around to prevent the “noodle-like” recessive trait from occurring.
Just A Little Bit Of History
Recorded history places the first evidence of spaghetti squash in Manchuria, China – about 170 years ago – making its way to Japan in the early 1920s. It has since become native to Mexico and Central America – and was introduced in North America sometime in the mid-1930s.
How About Nutrition?
Spaghetti squash is just as full of healthy nutrients – vitamins and minerals – as its cousin squashes – acorn and butternut.
Here’s a list of them:
- A – Comes mostly in the form of beta-Carotene. It promotes healthy looking skin, strengthens the immune system, and keeps our eyes and vision in good working order.
- B1 – Thiamine helps the body to convert carbohydrates and sugars (glucose) into energy. It is essential to keep the muscles, heart, and nerve system functioning well.
- B2 – The vitamin, Riboflavin, helps to break down carbohydrates, fats, and protein – creating energy. It is also a catalyst in getting oxygen supplied to our body.
- B3 – Otherwise known as Niacin, B3 helps each and every part of our body to properly function. It has been known to lower cholesterol, ease the pain of arthritis, and increase the functioning of our brain.
- B5 – Pantothenic acid is essential for increasing blood cells and converting carbohydrates, protein, and fats into energy.
- B6 – Pyridoxine is tasked with maintaining healthy nerves, skin, and red blood cells. It also has been used in the treatment and prevention of several nerve disorders caused by some medications.
- B9 – Folate makes new red and white blood cells, produces DNA and RNA, and converts carbohydrates into energy. It is an extremely important vitamin for pregnant women, babies, and young children.
- C – This Ascorbic acid and antioxidant aids in the growth, development, and repair of body tissue. It is key in forming collagen, strengthening the immune system, and helping the body to absorb iron. Vitamin C successfully spurs the healing of wounds and keeps cartilage, bones, and teeth strong and healthy.
- E – Is another antioxidant. It helps support functioning of the immune system – it prevents inflammation – and it keeps our eyes healthy. The E vitamin has been known to prevent heart disease and lower risks of cancer.
- Calcium – Builds and protects bones, aids in blood clotting, helps our muscles contract, and assists in keeping our heart beating strong.
- Iron – Keeps hemoglobin doing its job of transporting oxygen to the blood. Shortages of iron – can cause many serious health problems including heart disease. People experiencing iron deficient anemia exhibit anxiety, depression, restlessness, and have trouble concentrating. Children with ADHD are usually iron deficient.
- Magnesium – Regulates muscle and nerve functions, maintains blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and creates body protein, DNA, and bone structures.
- Manganese – Is important to metabolize amino acids, glucose, carbohydrates, and cholesterol. It helps in forming bones, clotting blood, and reducing inflammation.
- Phosphorus – Works alongside calcium in building strong bones – as well as converting foods into energy for the body.
- Potassium – is absolutely essential in a big way in helping the body to function well. It helps to cancel the negative effects of salt – reducing the fluid in the kidneys – which aids in lowering blood pressure.
- Zinc – Spurs growth and helps maintain the body – overall. It helps the immune system, proper thyroid functions – and helps to heal wounds and clot blood.
These are the basics ones. There are a host of others, as well.
Taking a look at calories, 1 cup (100 grams) of spaghetti squash is only 31 calories. Upon seeing that 1 cup of uncooked penne pasta has a whopping 352 calories – almost 12 times as many – it is common sense to substitute spaghetti squash for pasta whenever possible – to eliminate a ton of empty calories – not to mention all the fat-producing heavy starch!
Taste And Preparation
Mature spaghetti squash approaches a foot in length and can weigh up to 8 pounds. The mild-flavored stringy, tender, yet slightly crunchy, flesh, resembling angel hair pasta, has the ability to absorb the flavors of whatever it is cooked with or added to.
Some call it “vegetable spaghetti.” Some call it “noodle squash.” But, most of us just call it spaghetti squash.
I like to slice spaghetti squash in half – lengthwise – remove the pulp and seeds – coat the flesh with extra virgin olive oil containing a bit of garlic salt – and, place it flesh side down on a baking pan. Then, I oven roast it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes but no more than 40 minutes. I like mine to be an “al dente” consistency.
Then, I let it cool for a half hour – or so – before I get out a fork to scrape out the flesh – while it magically turns into noodle strands during the scraping process.
Just one spaghetti squash will yield about 5 cups of noodles – which gives me more than a handful of spaghetti dinners – once I top it off with my homemade spaghetti sauce.
- If you want your squash noodles to be longer – and you have a sharp knife – like my TUO Carving Knife – don’t cut it in half lengthwise. Instead, cut it in half width-wise – remove the pulp and seeds – coat the flesh of each half with olive oil (and, maybe add some garlic salt) – and roast the two halves with the flesh pointing down on the baking pan. Roasting time at 400 degrees will still be about 30 to 40 minutes less – and, the noodles will be twice as long – and, just about as long as regular pasta noodles.
- Trick: Whether you are cutting spaghetti squash lengthwise or width-wise, try using the point of the knife to pierce the hard skin – lay the blade of the knife in the cut – rap the knife sharply with a rubber mallet or wooden club. That’s the easy way to slice up a spaghetti squash.
- Save the seeds and roast them! Separate them from the pulp (easier in cold water). Pat them dry with a paper towel. Coat them with a tablespoon or two of olive oil (or canola oil). I like to add a pinch or two of garlic salt to the oil. Roast them in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Now, you’ve created some unexpected crunchy goodness!
Besides being a healthy substitute for pasta, spaghetti squash can also be sautéed, stir-fried, and, used as an ingredient in casserole dishes – or as a side dish mixed with any number of sauces, veggies, meats, cheese, or herbs.
You Really Wanna Be Growing Your Own Spaghetti Squash!
Once you experience the taste – especially with the absolutely ridiculously low calorie content – you will most definitely want to grow spaghetti squash!
The best available spaghetti squash seeds come from Burpee and Stonysoil Seed Company. Both of them offer quality, non-GMO, high germination seeds that will keep you coming back and ordering more each and every year!
My Growin’ Technique!
Spaghetti squash is simple and easy to grow. Just make sure you have a location that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day and no squash family veggies were grown there for at least 2 years. A review of crop rotation techniques will give you all the know-how you need.
I also plant the seeds directly into the garden because squash seeds do not take kindly to the germination, hardening off, and transplanting processes that I use indoors for other garden veggies. Squash is very sensitive to root disturbances. So, I wait until well after the last frost of the spring to stick the seeds in the ground. Actually, I wait until the end of May – or the first part of June. Spaghetti squash can take up to 4 months from planting to picking time – and, I like to pick my mature squash in late September or early October.
- Freshly till the soil to a half foot deep or more – with either a quality electric or gas tiller.
- Fill some 5 gallon buckets with Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture – which is 50% dirt from the garden plus 50% Miracle-Gro potting mix (or garden soil), along with a couple tablespoons of standard 10-10-10 fertilizer.
- Turn a bucket of the soil mixture upside down to make a mound.
- Stick 3 or 4 spaghetti squash seeds into the mound.
- Anchor a tomato trellis cage over the mound. As the vines grow, occasionally help them climb the trellis – until they get used to it.
- Move 3 feet down the row and repeat. Keep the rows at least 3 feet apart.
- Water well – giving them at least an inch of water per week. Soaker hoses are an excellent technique for watering the squash – because, the water goes straight to the roots and doesn’t get the leaves wet – which can increase the chances of the plant contracting a fungal disease.
- Twice a month, throw a little 10-10-10 fertilizer on each mound.
- Seedlings will peek out of the ground in about 2 weeks – or less. When the second set of leaves appear, pinch off the weaker ones – leaving the strongest to continue to grow.
- Mulch around each mound and between the rows – to control weeds and retain soil moisture. Squash roots stay shallow – just barely underground – and are sensitive to soil that dries out quickly.
And, TH – TH – TH – THAT’S ALL FOLKS!
When To Pick ‘Em?
When they’re yeller – pick ‘em feller!
As spaghetti squash matures, they’ll turn from green – to ivory – to bright golden yellow – and, maybe even dark yellow. If they’re at least a bright golden yellow – with a stem that is turning brown, I get out my Hori Hori knife – or my Gonicc shears and cut the stem several inches above the squash. But, first, I make sure that the skin is hard enough that my fingernail won’t penetrate it or scratch the skin. Sometimes it may look ready to pick – but, it may actually need a couple more days on the vine.
They’ll stay fresh for up to 6 months. – if you place them in a cool (60 degrees Fahrenheit or less), dry place. Just don’t allow them to get frostbite.
What About Pests And Diseases?
There are a multitude of nasty little bugs that love spaghetti squash just as much as I do:
- Cucumber beetles
- Vine borers
- Squash bugs
- Spider mites
- And – more!
There are a number of companion plants that will ward off these enemies of squash. Check out Plants That Repel Bugs – The Bad Ones – And Attract Good Bugs for a host of great plants to help keep these pests away from squash. Some of these plants include catnip, chives, clover, coriander (cilantro), dill, marigolds, nasturtiums, peppermint, petunias, sunflowers, and thyme.
If companion planting is not enough – and, you’re still getting nasty bugs attacking your spaghetti squash – hit them hard with a dose of Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer at the first sign of these critters munching on your squash plants and you may be able to make them vanish for good!
Spaghetti squash is subject to all the basic squash fungal diseases – wilt – powdery and downy mildew – and, most especially mosaic virus which can be transmitted by cucumber beetles and aphids. If you start seeing leaves turning brown, getting sticky gunk on them, getting yellow or red streaks or blotches, or anything out of the normal, beautiful “garden green” color – and, you’re sure that the color changes aren’t the result of drought – get out some Daconil or Physan 20 and coat the plant – without hesitation.
If you wait too long, and the disease takes over the entire plant – remove it – roots and all – from the garden – bag it – and give it to the garbage collector. Don’t let it anywhere near your precious garden!
Thought For The Day…
My definition of an optimistic gardener is one who is convinced that whatever goes down – must come up!
Your views are welcome! Comment below or email me!